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Midseason Evaluation of White Sox Hitters

The White Sox lineup is one of the best in all of baseball.

We are now halfway through the MLB regular season, and the Chicago White Sox are still holding their own and sitting in first place in the AL Central with a three game lead. Amazing. Whether or not the Detroit Tigers will finally start playing up to their potential remains to be seen, but it’s hard to see this White Sox team slowing down anytime soon. They rank fifth in the AL in runs scored (409) and sixth in team ERA (3.91). Since the addition of Kevin Youkilis, the Sox are 10-4, including series wins against the Rangers (sweep) and Blue Jays, and are averaging an incredible 6.14 runs per game.

If you can recall from a couple of months back, I wrote a post titled “By the Numbers: Evaluating the Impact of Cubs and Sox Hitters,” in which I used Bill James’ Runs Created Formula in an attempt to compute the number of runs “created” by a hitter throughout the course of a season (refer to the book Mathletics). Simply put, if a team consisted of nine of the same player, such as nine Paul Konerkos, approximately how many runs would they have scored thus far this season and, more importantly, how many runs would they score for their team per game? Instead of using sabermetric measurements that most casual fans don’t understand, such as wins above replacement (WAR), the runs created formula gives us the ability to evaluate the true value that each hitter has brought to his respective lineup thus far this season. Like last time, I gathered each player’s statistics and computed the runs created and game outs used for each hitter using:

Runs created = ((hits + BB + HBP) X (Total Bases))  ÷   (AB + BB + HBP)

Game outs used = .982(AB) – hits + GIDP + SF + SAC + CS

Remember, according to Mathletics, “approximately 1.8% of all at bats result in errors. Hitters also create ‘extra’ outs through sacrifice flies (SF), sacrifice bunts (SAC), caught stealing (CS), and grounding into double plays (GIDP).” Hence why we must take .982 of every at-bat instead of 1. Game outs used must then be divided by 26.72 (the total number of game outs available in a game, taking into account the .018 approximate number of errors per 27 outs in a MLB game) in order to determine the number of games’ worth of outs used by each hitter. That, ultimately, leaves the most important equation as the final step:

Runs created per game =  runs created  ÷  games’ worth of outs

Obviously, runs created per game tells you more about a hitter’s value than total runs created because the latter does not differentiate between bad hitters with a lot of plate appearances and great hitters with less plate appearances. That being said, take a look at the numbers below:

Youk’s numbers are clearly inflated due to how great he’s been in a White Sox uniform in only 49 at-bats, so the 10.05 runs created per game is bound to go down. However, it’s important to point out that, between 2008-2010, Youkilis managed to create 8.39, 8.61 and 8.92 runs respectively. Although he only averaged 427 at-bats the last two seasons of that span due to a variety of injuries, those numbers are still pretty unbelievable. If there’s anything to take away from the chart, it’s this: Brent Morel is bad. Like really bad. Sox fans should be kissing Kenny Williams’ and Rick Hahn’s asses every single day for the rest of the season for trading a couple of crackerjacks for Youkilis. That should end up going down as the best trade of the year for any one team.

If you move on down the line, everything seems to make sense. Paul Konerko continues to do what Paul Konerko does, taunting opposing pitchers to the tune of a .329 batting average and .904 OPS. The dude just doesn’t seem to let up and remains one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball. He has been the most valuable hitter in the Sox lineup all season long, but at this point in his career, no baseball fan needs statistics to help him/her figure that out.

The biggest surprise this season has to be Alex Rios. He’s quietly having a monstrous turnaround season, ranking fifth in the AL in hits with 101 and 11th in total bases with 166. He’s also second on the team with a .318 average and leads the team in extra-base hits with 36 (tied with Dunn). To put into perspective how truly great he has been this season, take a look at last year’s numbers:

Rios has already created more runs midway through this season than he did all of last season. Quite frankly, he was atrocious last year, and Sox fans had all but given up on him. But, as Rios has proven, it’s never too late to turn things around. Somewhere, Adam Dunn is nodding aggressively.

Alexei Ramirez has certainly gotten better since we last calculated these numbers (was creating 1.75 runs per game seven weeks into the season), but he still remains dead last among every day Sox hitters in runs created per game. He barely ever walks (his on-base percentage is a measly .287) and only has 17 extra-base hits, also good for last on the team. It seems as if Ramirez will continue to shit on White Sox brass as he rakes in his $8 million per year, but as I just pointed out, there’s always room for improvement.

The 2012 season is moving fast and the dog days of summer are rapidly approaching. With only 77 games left, the White Sox are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The second half of the season is going to be a grind, but if the Sox can maintain these hot bats, they should have no problem getting to October.


The Impact of Kevin Youkilis Switching Sox

As Kevin Youkilis kisses goodbye to Boston, White Sox fans should be excited about the monstrous hole that he will fill at third base.

A .174 batting average, one home run, 16 RBIs, 16 walks and eight extra-base hits in 201 at-bats — that’s the kind of production that the Chicago White Sox have gotten from their so-called third basemen this season. Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson have been nothing short of nauseating at the hot corner thus far, which seems to have been a pattern since Joe Crede left town. Since 2007, the Sox have had by far the lowest WAR (wins above replacement) – and the only negative WAR for that matter – for third basemen (-3.1). Basically, my left nut could have provided three more wins over that span than Josh Fields, Omar Vizquel, Mark Teahen, Morel, Hudson and any other player that contributed next to nothing as a platoon third baseman. Five years later, Kenny Williams decided he’d had enough.

On Sunday afternoon, the White Sox traded utility man Brent Lillibridge and the under-performing right-handed pitcher, Zach Stewart, to the Red Sox for three-time All-Star and two-time World Series winner Kevin Youkilis. As unexcited as some Sox fans are because of Youkilis’ injury history and recent offensive decline, there’s no way in hell that Chicago is not a better team with him. They didn’t give up much to get him, as Lillibridge is very replaceable as a bench player at best and, although he was pretty highly touted out of Texas Tech and is still young at the age of 25, Zach Stewart’s 6.00 ERA and 3.00 (yes, 3.00) home runs given up per nine innings just weren’t going to help this team win a championship this season. As far as Youkilis’ injury history is concerned, Fangraphs’ Chris Cwik explained why exactly Sox fans shouldn’t have to worry as much as they have been:

While Youkilis does have a lengthy injury history — the last time he had 600 plate appearances was in 2008 — he’s joining a team with one of the best medical staffs in baseball. Led by Herm Schneider, the White Sox have been able to keep injury-prone players on the field. Schneider managed to keep Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin relatively healthy in the mid-to-late-2000s, and has properly managed Jake Peavy and Chris Sale this season. Outside of John Danks‘ injury this season, the White Sox’s three main starters for quite some time — Danks, Mark Buerhle and Gavin Floyd — rarely missed starts. Schneider also worked wonders with Jim Thome. The White Sox’s training staff does exceptional work, and Youkilis should benefit from working with them.

Of course, Kevin Youkilis is different from those guys, and nothing is guaranteed, but Schneider’s track record of keeping injury-plagued players on the field should count for something. Yes, his numbers are down, and he’s having the worst statistical season of his career (.233/.315/.377 splits), but I’d like to think that a change of scenery (Youkilis hates Bobby Valentine – shocker, right?), his incredibly hard-working mentality and a new training staff will only help the Greek God of Walks get back to old form. Even if he doesn’t get fully back there (which he probably won’t because he’s now 33 years old), whatever production he provides in the lineup for the rest of this season, and hopefully beyond (Chicago has a $13 million team option for him next season or can buy him out for $1 million), should be infinitely better than the buffoonery that is the Morel/Hudson platoon. Even if it isn’t working out early on, the acquisition gives the White Sox until the July 31 trade deadline to decide if another upgrade is necessary. But, given the hitter friendliness of U.S. Cellular Field, a vast improvement from Youkilis is more than possible. Take a look at last season’s right-handed home run park factors, provided by Fangraphs:

After playing 8.5 seasons in a park that represses right-handed home run power (Fenway Park), Youk’ will be playing in the friendliest home run park in the league for right-handed hitters on the Southside. That’s huge news for a guy currently struggling to find his swing, so let’s hope it all starts coming to fruition soon.

With the ever-gaping hole at third base now filled up, Jose Quintana pitching like the second coming of Tom Glavine, and John Danks set to return at the end of July or early August, the time is now for the White Sox to make their move as they enter the second half of the season. Kenny Williams has a month to figure out whether or not this is the ideal roster built for October. Nonetheless, the addition of Kevin Youkilis will bring another veteran leader to the clubhouse and may very well turn the already solid White Sox offense into a legitimate juggernaut.

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